Flash Fiction Challenge: Murder by Numbers (1, 2…)

Something a little different this week for the Terrible Minds Flash Fiction challenge. The challenge Must Contain Three Things gave me public drunkenness, poison, and a box of photographs. So rather than try to weave that into something genre laden, I decided to go with a realistic story of murder and betrayal in 1,000 words. I also played with the format a bit (because, hey what are these stories for if not to try new things?) and broke each required element into its own set of scenes.

Apologies to The Police for the title, but it’s all I could think of as I counted down my scenes. Enjoy!

Murder by Numbers (1, 2…)

Bill stumbled over the curb, his arms pinwheeling. “Jesus.” he said loudly to no one in particular. Once he regained his balance, he turned and stared at the curb, as if it was somehow taller or more trip-inducing than others he had encountered in his 32 years. He turned his focus from the curb to his shiny black leather shoes, suspecting that, if they weren’t the cause of the imbalance, they were certainly in on the conspiracy.

Laboriously, he pulled his focus back to the sidewalk that lined Main Street. The French bistro was a few doors down, wrought iron tables and chairs baking in the Florida sun.

Sally didn’t remember the name of the liquid in the dropper bottle. She forgot almost as soon as she threw away the note it came with. All she remembered was that it was odorless, tasteless, and one drop in any drink would inebriate, two would incapacitate, and three would kill.

She stopped counting drops sometime after four.

The shoe box was left on the doorstep, covered in white paper. No address. No postage. Just scrawled on top, in looping black script: “You should know.” The “o”s were hearts.

Sally stood in her doorway, looking up and down the street. There was no one. She didn’t want to touch the box. What if it was a bomb? Wasn’t that what Fox news said every unattended box was supposed to be now? Or it was filled with poison that would surge into her lungs as soon as she lifted the lid. Anthrax. That’s what the box was full of. She knew it like you knew there would be a fortune inside the cookie that came with your cashew chicken.

Reaching the tables, Bill grabbed a glass of water. The liquid found his throat and then came back up as quickly as he’d gulped it down. He couldn’t swallow.

The cries of protest from the couple at the table registered on some level. A chair was pushed back, the metal against concrete sound making heads turn. He should be apologizing. He should be charming them, making them laugh so that they would forget his indiscretions. But he couldn’t focus on anything for more than a second before it swam out of his field of vision.

There were shadows closing in on the edges, swarming like ants. His focus locked on one, standing just at the entrance of the bistro. The full sun didn’t dissipate him and when he smiled, it was familiar.

It was the smile that Bill had lived with his entire life, after all.

She should be crying, Sally thought. She should be overwhelmed at what she was about to do. But she stared at the two glasses of iced tea and felt nothing but certainty and calm.

“Here you go, honey.” She flounced out onto the patio, wearing only the shirt he’d left the first night he came over.

He smiled at her in that “hand-in-the-cookie-jar” way he had. It charmed her when they first met. Now she saw it wasn’t an act. Bill got away with everything.

His luck was about to run out in a spectacular fashion.

Sally held her breath and lifted the lid, banishing the paranoia that roosted. There was a stoppered bottle with a note and a stack of photographs.

She set aside the box and bottle and snatched at the photographs. The very first one was of Bill’s wife. Her hair practically glowing in the sunlight.

She was at least seven months pregnant.

But this wasn’t recent. This couldn’t be. Bill told her that it was over. The long absences were for work, for dealing with divorce proceedings, for taking care of “kid stuff.”

The next picture was of the he and his pregnant wife by the marquee at the Van Wezel, exaggerated excitement on their faces as they pointed at a picture of a washed up pop-star. Bill had been genuinely giddy about seeing him when he tried to convince Sally to go last weekend.

He found someone else to take.

Her heart racing, a slick feeling in her stomach, Sally put the pictures back and grabbed the note. It started with, “You know what you have to do.”

Bill backed away from the shadow, but it advanced with every step.

Someone yelled his name nearby and he tried to bring them into focus. He was meeting someone. But who? Was it Deborah? Sally? He needed to prepare his story, depending on who it was. His eyes wouldn’t obey. He couldn’t stop staring at the shadow.

His feet found the curb again, just as unstable as it had been when he crossed it before.

Bill couldn’t catch himself this time. His head landed hard against the cobblestone pedestrian walkway. The shadow fell on Bill. Filled his vision.

There was a screeching of tires, far too close to stop.

Bill kissed her and headed out the front door, claiming an afternoon appointment of some sort.
His iced tea was half-finished on the table where he left it.

As the door closed, Sally felt her face flush. It wasn’t over. It was all a trick to see what she would do. Someone, (Bill’s wife? Maybe even Bill?) thought it would be fun to mess with the mistress.

She grabbed his iced tea and finished it in one slow, steady gulp. She tasted the poison as soon as she put the glass down.

Lilly adjusted her sunglasses and stepped over the body at the front door, careful not to touch anything. That the woman had been able to get the door open before she fell over was a lucky coincidence.

She gathered the bottle. Found the note in the trash. She made sure the pictures were all there.

She left as she came and quickly headed down the street.

Her mom would be waiting for her to get home and help paint the nursery.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *